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Sandler Training in Calgary | Calgary, AB

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What to do when an employee comes to you with a "solution" that isn't feasible?

Maybe you've never had that experience or the experience of attempting to use logical, rational counterpoints to help your employee realize that their solution won't work in its current form and the conflict that arises from that attempt.

When someone comes to me with a "problem" to which they've already designed a "solution," I remember "you can't reason someone out of a position they weren't reasoned into."

To use language from transactional analysis, on which David Sandler built his communication system, the employee who comes to you with a "solution" is operating from their Child or Parent ego state.

The Child and Parent ego states are reactionary (think of a child saying "I want it" or a parent saying "you should do this") so "solutions" present by someone operating in one of those ego states typically aren't thought through beyond "THIS is the way to go."

In my experience, leaders typically have one of three reactions to these "solutions."

  1. Immediately accept the solution - taken by leaders who get their needs met by being liked by their team at the expense of the company. Unlikely to change the employee's behavior and potentially detrimental to the company. In the role play described above the employee's "solution" was to get an immediate $15,000 advance against future commissions to pay for a new car after their teen totaled their other car.
  2. Resist the solution entirely - taken by leaders who get their needs met be being "the boss." Likely to create passive resistance in their team and turnover as high potential employees tire of working for a leader who doesn't listen.
  3. Co-create a solution that works for both sides - simple yet not easy as the temptation to accept or resist is strong, especially if the "solution" is dropped on the leader's lap with no warning. To co-create a solution first a leader must first get their employee in an open minded state. Going down this path also presumes that the leader and employee have a mutual desire to continue their relationship beyond this conversation.

Someone who presents a "solution" that was likely created in a reactionary frame of mind is closed minded to any solution but their's. To create a open minded state a leader's best tools are probing questions, but remember Sandler's "rule of three plus," which means it often takes three or more questions to get to the truth.

In our role play last week we used these questions in this order to create an open mind and develop a solution that both parties felt was a win.

  1. Help me understand how you got to that solution? - attempts to pull the other party from their Child ego state to their Adult (rational) ego state and give you an opportunity to understand how deeply they are attached to their solution.
  2. I get the sense/feeling that... is that fair? - gives the other party an opportunity to deal with their emotions related to the issue and their solution. If they say "that's not fair," follow with "what is fair?"
  3. If you were me, what would you do? - the ultimate question that will give you the truth about how willing the other party is to create a win-win. Also gives the other party an opportunity to own the new solution because it was their idea.

One of my clients used that question in a negotiation when the offer presented was completely unacceptable. Their negotiating partner said "I would ask for this and this and this." My client said, "I can live with that" and they agreed to terms on the spot.

Critical for the person asking these questions is keeping their tone light and curious and their body position open.

Asking those questions won't get you to an amicable solution every time. By walking the other party through their thought process and addressing their emotions you give their mind time to open up. Once their mind is open they are more likely to create a solution that is acceptable to both of you.

Until next time... go lead.


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